FAKER ALERT: ELLE BROWN

takes advantage of laws meant to help the disabled for personal gain.

See the detailed discussion of her crimes against the disabled on our forum

How should I choose a program?

There are basically three options for acquiring a service dog. A person with training ability can train their own dog or find someone to guide them in training the dog, possibly in an owner-trainer class. A person can hire a professional trainer to train their dog for them. Or a person can try to get a dog through a program.

There are so many programs out there. Some are rip-offs. Others are great. How's a person to tell the difference between the two?

Your best bet is to find a program which is recommended by someone you know in person who has gotten a dog from that program. A dog you have seen working, who is well-behaved and task-trained. But let's say you have to start from scratch and find a program all on your own.

You can start someplace like Assistance Dogs International, which lists its member programs. The IAADPDelta Society also maintain lists of programs, HOWEVER, be aware that they do NOT screen these programs. I know for a fact that there are some rip-off organizations on these lists. I also know for a fact that there are good programs as well, on the very same lists. So, do your homework!

See the FAQ on finding a trainer for a more extensive list of resources f or finding trainers.

Do a little searching for information on the program before you even approach them. Put the name of the program in a google search at http://www.google.com and see what turns up. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any unresolved complaints against the program you are considering.

When you contact the program, ask to visit the facilities. Are they clean? Well maintained? Are the dogs clean, healthy, and of a good weight? Are there any bare spots in the fur or injuries on the dogs? Observe some training sessions. What are the trainer's credentials? Do you like the way the trainer handles the dogs? Do the dogs appear to enjoy training and like their trainer? Observe some of the program's advanced dogs. Those which are about to be placed. Are they well-behaved? Are they well-trained? Observe the handler's training program. Good programs will have the new handler come to the facility and train with their new SD partner for a few weeks, so the handler can learn how to handle the dog and how to care for him. Do you like the way new handlers are treated? Are their questions addressed? Are they treated with respect, even when they ask "dumb" questions? Are they actually getting useful instruction on how to work with the dog?

Ask to see the health records for the dogs. Are all the shots up to date? Are all dogs on heartworm preventative? Flea preventative? Are they spayed/neutered before being placed? Are the dog's x-rayed for hip dysplasia? Are they screened for other problems, such as heart disorders or eye disorders? You can speak to the program's veterinarian for verification of their care and veterinary history?

Ask to meet some graduates. Are their handlers happy with these dogs? Watch them work their dogs. Are the dogs well-behaved? Obedient? Are the handlers good at handling their dogs? If you can find a handler who was NOT happy with their dog, how was the dispute handled?

Say away from "mail-order" programs, where you send the money, sight unseen, and they send you the dog. Legitimate programs carefully match handler with dog. They don't do it over the phone or by email. They do it in person, because they want to make sure the partnership really works. I realize it can be problematic to go to the training facility and stay in a motel for a couple of weeks to receive your handler training. Believe me, it is far, far better than getting saddled with an uncontrollable, sick, or worse, a dangerous dog. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn how to maximize the effectiveness and usefullness of your new partnership. In the end, you will be glad you did.

Get a written contract which spells out precisely who owns the dog, what guarantees are being made, and what is to happen to the dog when he retires. Make sure you know about any requirements like annual re-certification, or that the dog must be caped when working. What happens if it doesn't work out? Do you get your money back? Do they get the dog back? Does the program cover their dogs with liability insurance? If not, will you be able to cover him on your home owner's or renter's policy?